Some more Pharyngula.
He’s exactly right about one thing: all the people on his little enemies list say terrible things about religion. Speaking for just myself, I don’t like it at all—I think it’s a bad idea to afflict a society with an institution dedicated to opposing critical thinking, the acceptance of dogma, and belief in unsupported and frankly, ludicrous claims. I’m going to express my detestation often and without reservation here, as the others in that list have done in their own venues. So? Is this an opinion we are not allowed to have? Does it make us unfit to speak on science or philosophy? Is it more offensive than the frequently stated and rarely questioned Christian opinion that we unbelievers are damned to spend all of eternity suffering in agonizing torment?
Well, yes, of course this is an opinion we’re not allowed to have. We know that. We also know that it’s less legitimately offensive than the opinion that we’re all going to fry, and that that’s just too damn bad, because it’s Be Kind To Theists century. Get used to it, as the saying goes.
I was talking yesterday in ‘Abdication not the Way to Go’ about this asymmetry between religion and non-religion. It’s a real problem, you know, because it handicaps one side and gives a boost to the other. Quite unreasonably. The inhibition or taboo on challenging religion – ‘other people’s cherished beliefs,’ you know – doesn’t operate at all in the other direction. No one ever has the smallest hesitation in challenging rational, secular, non-theist beliefs on grounds of tolerance or sensitivity or kindness or respect or diversity. The presumed touchiness and ‘sensitivity’ of believers is not matched by presumed anything of non-believers. (And nor should it be. Who wants to be such a delicate flower that she can’t stand to hear her ideas or beliefs challenged? Yet apparently believers are perfectly happy to be thought of that way – in fact they get very indignant and outraged if you don’t think of them that way. Odd.) This means that one side has an immense advantage and the other side has an immense handicap. One side is awarded a large shield or wall, and the other side has its weapons taken away.
And the joke is that this is precisely backward, in the sense that the first party has the weaker case – that is, the worse case, qualitatively. It’s not that it’s disabled or handicapped, injured or damaged, so that we ought to give it an advantage out of fairness – it’s that it has no standing, no warrant, no evidence, no good argument. It ought not to be given extra compensatory help – but it is. This second problem is rooted in the first, which is nonsensical. It amounts to: because the ‘faith’ team has no evidence and no good arguments, it feels stupid when challenged, therefore the reason team is required not to challenge it – so the faith team gets to make its unwarranted assertions unimpeded.
Do a thought experiment: put that in other contexts, and see how ridiculous it is. X declares that aliens from another galaxy are living among us and that the income tax and national health are alien inventions, and that we should execute all the aliens immediately to save ourselves. The rest of us are strongly discouraged from challenging this assertion, because X has no evidence, these are X’s personal subjective opinions.
If it doesn’t fly in normal everyday contexts – in courtrooms, laboratories, newsrooms, police stations – why does it fly anywhere? Especially given the fact that these supposedly personal subjective beliefs and opinions are allowed to influence, shape, determine public policy and law? Why are religious beliefs exempt from challenge? What is the justification?